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Partner Spotlight

Emily Iland
Autism advocate and campaign champion, Santa Clarita, California


Many People, Many Ways: How One Mom is Increasing Awareness of Developmental Disabilities

Emily IIland and Fiesta Educativa parent monitors

Emily Iland wears many hats—mother, author, educator, advocate. Though she plays numerous roles, one thing remains constant: her passion for educating people about developmental disabilities. Through her work, she has also helped promote the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign and has found unique ways to incorporate campaign materials into her outreach efforts.

Emily’s journey began at home when, after many years of struggle and confusion, her son Tom was diagnosed with autism at the age of 13. “At first, I did not know how to help my own son,” says Emily. “Autism was new to me. So, I devoted myself full time to learning about it—attending conferences and trainings, surfing the Net, reading books, and networking with other parents.”

Emily was also fortunate to have the support of her sister Barbara T. Doyle, an autism expert, who guided her family through the process of learning about autism and getting the help they needed. But she couldn’t help thinking about those who were not so lucky. Emily asked herself, “What about the families who don’t have access to information and resources? What about families who don’t speak English? How can I help other families dealing with autism?”

In 2004, Emily and her sister wrote a practical and comprehensive guidebook for parents and professionals entitled Autism Spectrum Disorders from A to Z. Recognizing the lack of autism information for Latino families, Emily decided to translate the book into Spanish. The Spanish book, Los Trastornos del Espectro de Autismo de la A a la Z, has won two awards for its contribution to the autism community.

Each time Emily mails a book order, she inserts a “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” informational card so that families have a quick list of key developmental milestones, in English and Spanish. Emily and her sister also developed a bilingual website and online resource guide to reach more people.

Emily recently completed her master’s degree in special education. She is also an active member of several advocacy groups in her area and conducts trainings throughout the country for a variety of audiences. With the Santa Clarita Autism Asperger Network, she conducted a free workshop for 50 preschool teachers to help them learn the signs of developmental delays. “The preschool teachers distributed ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early.’ campaign materials to all of their parents,” says Emily. “Since then, there has been an increase in requests for services from the regional early intervention program.”

As a member of Los Angeles Chapter of the Autism Society of America, she helped launch the Los Angeles Police Department Autism Awareness Project, training more than 1,000 police officers to recognize signs of autism so that officers will know how to respond when they encounter people with developmental disabilities. Emily also conducts a bilingual Autism 101 program for parents through Fiesta Educativa, a local advocacy organization. At every training, she uses and distributes bilingual campaign materials and encourages participants to share them with others.

“The ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early.’ campaign materials are a wonderful and needed resource,” says Emily. “They can really make a difference and help children living with disabilities be identified sooner and receive the help they need.”

Emily gives consistent advice to parents who suspect a delay: “Don’t be afraid. If you see differences, get help.”

For more information on how you can reach out to health professionals in your area, visit the How to Get Involved page of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” website.

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